There was a different face among the volunteers handing out free meals as part of the White Rock Rotary-City of White Rock Feed My City initiative last week.
On Nov. 10, South Surrey-White Rock MP Kerry Lynne Findlay took part in the lunchtime food distribution at the club’s hut in the Johnston Road parking lot, next to White Rock Playhouse.
Since early 2020 the lot has been the site of the program, designed to make up for the loss of similar church-run free meal programs, which were curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions.
Findlay accepted an invitation from organizers to observe the program first-hand, after looking into complaints from some constituents that Feed My City may be a contributing factor to disruptive incidents in the uptown area.
An Oct. 27 public online meeting between police and small business owners – hosted by the South Surrey-White Rock Chamber of Commerce and reported by Peace Arch News – heard that a problem with ‘homeless people,’ ‘drug-users’ and ‘undesirables’ lingering around uptown businesses has emerged in recent months.
But volunteers and organizers of Feed My City said they have not seen any issue with inappropriate behaviour among meal recipients they have come to know on a first-name basis, and doubted they have anything to do with problems merchants have experienced.
Among White Rock Rotarians Findlay met with at the site were club president Gordy Sangha, community services director Ted Church, program volunteers Myra Ford and Merita Grant, Mayor Darryl Walker, Coun. David Chesney and community activist and honorary Rotarian Moti Bali – who has particularly championed the Feed My City program and been active in securing donations of food and services from local restaurants and other businesses and individuals.
Bali pointed out that many of those who join the Feed My City line daily at noon are not homeless, but simply people who have fallen on hard times and having difficulty making ends meet.
“There are a lot of mental health problems because of COVID,” he said. “This is not only (about) food. People need support and someone to listen.”
“People we’re dealing with are right on the edge,” Walker noted. “These people deserve respect.”
Findlay emphasized that in investigating complaints her office had received, she was “not taking anything away from the program.”
“There are lots of people in need and this a wonderful program,” she assured volunteers and organizers.
At the same time, she said, “many complaints were coming into our office all of a sudden.”
“Maybe it’s because this is so visible,” she said, adding that she is prepared to accept that some complaints may be based on false perceptions of the program.
But Findlay noted to PAN that it is due diligence for an MP to follow up on such complaints.
“Some people only call their MP because they have tried to speak to other people and have not received an answer,” she said.
“Everyone is deserving of respect – not just the people who come here, but also the people who are trying to run businesses,” she said.
Bali said he, too, has heard negative perceptions of regular Feed My City participants from some local residents and business owners – perceptions, he said that he feels are based mostly on prejudices about the disadvantaged.
“(The program) is not the problem – this is the solution,” Bali said.